"The myth is that we were all on the beach." Peter Schmeichel recounts the inside story of Denmark's remarkable EURO '92 triumph, from the too-tight kit to Richard Møller Nielsen's influence.
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Denmark may have been pipped by Albania for an automatic spot at UEFA EURO 2016, but they have form in bouncing back from qualifying disappointment to achieve final tournament glory.
Famously Denmark missed out on the eight-team EURO '92, only to be summoned to Sweden two weeks before the finals after Yugoslavia were barred because of the developing Balkan crisis. They went on to win the trophy, recovering from losing their second group game to Sweden at the old Råsundastadion – not far from Solna's new Friends Arena where the teams met again in Saturday's play-off first leg.
Peter Schmeichel was the goalkeeper in 1992 who denied the Netherlands in the last-four penalty shoot-out and Germany in the final, and here he remembers perhaps the most remarkable major championship victory in history.
On how Denmark made it ...
We have people who go out of their way to get to a point and create enormous results internationally. Not many, but we have a few. The number of people we have is small compared to a country like England, Germany, France, Spain ... we don't have a lot of people. So we will only have a few people actively going all the way. And that goes for football as well.
We were very fortunate that we were one group of people who felt like pioneers in Danish football. We felt like we had responsibility to break the waves and go against the tide and absolutely prove to everyone that we can compete.
We had great examples along the way. For instance in the [1990/91] UEFA Cup, in the first round in Copenhagen, we [Brøndby] played Eintracht Frankfurt, who had four or five German internationals, and we beat them 5-0. They came up thinking we were a nobody team, but we weren't like that. We got hammered 4-1 in the away game, but still went through [and eventually reached the semis]. But the defiance of being a small nation, we actually took that into our games.
On the late call to Sweden ...
Well, the myth is that we were all on the beach. You know, myths are myths. The reality was that we'd finished our seasons, the players who played abroad at the time, and the players who played in Denmark were still in their season when we got told that we were in. But we've come back from playing our seasons and all we were thinking about was holiday.
We still had this one game against the CIS [successor to the Soviet Union], in their last preparation game before they went to Sweden. Every day we were driving up for a training session at Brøndby – and it was at Brøndby that we got told. The thing was, we were not quite on our holidays but I think every single one of us had already switched off – just get this game out of the way and we would get our free time. But physically we were there, so we had a lot of mental work to do to get to the point where we could start competing in a championship of that calibre. So holidays upstairs, but physically still working.
On their too-tight kit ...
Our sponsors, who were Hummel back then, were not prepared for us to go. So what we had was, I think, the Under-21 kit – they were going somewhere else, I can't remember where. Hummel obviously had to be very, very quick in producing new kits. So when you look at the first game we played, against England, every one of us is in shirts and shorts that were a little bit too tight! But along the way we got new strips and things fitted a little bit better.
On the group stage ...
Once we drew 0-0 with England, it was like a funeral in the dressing room – we could not believe we hadn't won that game. We'd obviously come straight into the tournament, no real preparation, not as much as England, but we felt we were much better prepared – physically we were stronger, we felt we had played better and created more chances, and still we didn't win. We couldn't believe it.
But from that moment we thought, well, we are definitely in a position where we can compete in this tournament. And at no point did we think we were going to lose games – only to play the next game against Sweden and lose 1-0! A game, again, where we had five or six big chances and should have won. But we never lost the belief [and beat France to go through]. I think that comes from the way we were brought up through the schooling system, and obviously having again the right circumstances with a club like Brøndby.
On upsetting the Netherlands in the semi-finals ...
That comes from, not defiance, but not accepting that we are a small country. We have exactly the same opportunity to go and better ourselves and be the best professionals, and if we get the right circumstances we can go and do whatever job we want to do. So it's more a mentality, I think. And I think that, more than anything, was why we won the European Championship.
On the final win against Germany ...
It was magical and unexpected. It's funny, because along the way Denmark has had really, really good results in other sports – and it's like they've taken over as the benchmark. And this European Championship, if it's not been forgotten, when people bring it up again it is a pinnacle.
There's a film [Sommeren 92, released last August], the original idea was to do the film around the 'magical win of the team that wasn't there', and how did that happen. Because the coach Richard Møller Nielsen fell ill and unfortunately died [last year], they've made this film a tribute to him. That's another weird thing about Denmark, because Richard Møller Nielsen is the most successful football coach we've ever had, that's undisputable, and he's not been recognised as a good coach. It's weird. We should be ashamed of that. But this film is a tribute to him.
I am very pleased with this project, because it's brought the European Championship back into the minds of Denmark and the Danish population.